Tech platforms, which had already faced intense pressure to reject misinformation and foreign interference ahead of the 2020 elections, came under increased scrutiny in the months that followed. Even when some of the companies implemented new steps to crack down on electoral conspiracy theories, it was not enough to prevent hardliners of President Donald Trump from storming the US Capitol.
The hearing also marks the first time that CEOs have returned to Congress since Trump was banned or suspended from their respective platforms following the Capitol riots. In their prepared remarks, some of the executives directly address the events of January 6.
“The attack on the Capitol was a horrific assault on our values and our democracy, and Facebook is committed to helping law enforcement bring the insurgents to justice,” Zuckerberg’s testimony reads. But Zuckerberg also adds, “We do more to address disinformation than any other company.”
The hearings coincide with legislation that is being actively considered in both the House and Senate to control the technology industry. Some bills target the economic dominance of companies and alleged anti-competitive practices. Others focus on the platforms’ approach to content moderation or data privacy. The various proposals could introduce stringent new requirements for technology platforms or expose them to greater legal liability in ways that can reshape the industry.
For executives in the dock, Thursday’s session may also be their last chance to present a case in person to lawmakers before Congress embarks on potentially radical changes to federal law.
At the heart of the looming political battle is Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, the signature liability shield that grants websites legal immunity for much of the content posted by their users. Members of both parties have called for updates to the law, which has been interpreted broadly by the courts and is credited with developing the open Internet.
Written testimony from CEOs prior to Thursday’s high-profile hearing outlines areas of potential common ground with lawmakers and hints at areas where companies intend to work with Congress, and areas where it is likely. Big Tech back off.
But those claims of progress are unlikely to appease the committee members, whose memo cited various research papers indicating that disinformation and extremism remain rampant on platforms.